Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Feeding My Teacher's Soul

I just attended a conference hosted by the Montana Office of Public Instruction - Indian Education For All Best Practices.  It is one of the best conferences I have attended in a long time.  We had some wonderful presenters.

One of my favorite sectionals was listening to two of the Elders, Minerva Allen and Lois Red Elk present their own poetry. I wish it there had been a recording of  this Poetry Reading . The last poem that Lois Red Elk presented was haunting. Her delivery mesmerizing.  To have both women together sharing their writing was a once in a lifetime experience.

Teachers shared what works in their classroom, educators from elementary all the way through college. Presenters from the Montana Historical Society were also there.  I came away not only with new literature to use but new ways of sharing it in my classroom.  I am excited!

Montana's Constitution mandates the study of American Indians.  We have started by learning about the tribes in our own state first.

This is a section from the Montana Constitution that discusses Indian Education For All -

MCA 20-1-501 
Recognition of American Indian cultural heritage -- legislative intent. 
(1) It is the constitutionally declared policy of this state to recognize the distinct and unique 
cultural heritage of American Indians and to be committed in its educational goals to the 
preservation of their cultural heritage. 
(2) It is the intent of the legislature that in accordance with Article X, section 1(2), of the 
Montana constitution:  
(a) Every Montanan, whether Indian or non-Indian, be encouraged to learn about the 
distinct and unique heritage of American Indians in a culturally responsive manner; and 
(b) Every educational agency and all educational personnel will work cooperatively with 
Montana tribes or those tribes that are in close proximity, when providing instruction or 
when implementing an educational goal or adopting a rule related to the education of 
each Montana citizen, to include information specific to the cultural heritage and 
contemporary contributions of American Indians, with particular emphasis on Montana 
Indian tribal groups and governments. 
(3) It is also the intent of this part, predicated on the belief that all school personnel should have 
an understanding and awareness of Indian tribes to help them relate effectively with Indian 
students and parents, that educational personnel provide means by which school personnel will 
gain an understanding of and appreciation for the American Indian people.   

People ask me,"Why should the study of Montana's Indians be mandatory?  Why not their heritage - English, Irish, Spanish, German etc?"  The short answer is you can go to the country of your heritage and learn about that culture.  America is the home and only place you will find most of these tribes.  It's about expanding cultural awareness for all Montana citizens.  It is also about hearing the other voices of our history.

Indian Education For All is one of my passions.


  1. I am a huge supporter of Indian Education, living in New Mexico as I do. Fortunately, no one questions the validity of studying native peoples here. Over 30% of our population is native. I really enjoy teaching my students this fascinating part of their state's history.

  2. Thanks for sharing this. I wish I could hear that poem but maybe the poem was a gift, and part of that gift is your memory.

  3. You make an excellent point. Perhaps it's time this country take Indian education a little more seriously. Already too many people have forgotten.

  4. We're just concluding our unit on the Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears, and your post really resonated. I, too, get a lot of comments from colleagues at school about the amount of time I spend on Native Americans - but each year my students and I make this journey together and learn so much. Like our study of slavery, the Native American forced migration reveals many important facets of who we were as a nation and what we can learn from our mistakes. It sounds like a wonderful workshop, Ruth!

  5. Lois Red Elk gave me verbal permission to post one poem. And when I write the post I will include how to get a copy of her book. Hopefully in time she will make a recording of some of her poems. Many of the people that heard Minerva and Lois read their poems were also moved. I believe someone hopes to record both of them reading their poetry.

    Kevin expressed it well when he said the poem and my memory was a gift. I know he is right.

  6. Sounds like a wonderful conference. If no one teaches about the past it will disappear from our cultural memory.

  7. wow...I say we do need to add this piece in to our curriculum- what a workshop...hmmm I wish I lived and taught out west

  8. It's a beautiful way to share your learning by telling us about the conference. I too wish I had heard the poem & am glad you can now share. I've taught about our local tribes in Colorado & my class spent time with the Seri Indians in the state of Sonora, Mexico-a beautiful memory of my own. Thank you for capturing this for us, Ruth.

  9. I wish you had a recording to share with us also--it sounds wonderful! And selfishly, I'm always on the lookout for different kinds of poetry and recordings of it for my contest speech kids. I'll have to check youtube and see if I can find any!

  10. Most people think of the west as where you would have Native American studies, but Maine has a number of tribes: Abenaki, Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot in the Wabanaki Confederacy. Our state standards include Native American studies of the Maine tribes.
    I would certainly have been wonderful if those poets had been recorded. Do they make recordings for purchase?

  11. That's great PD - to get some excellent information, practical material and time to dialogue. It doesn't get better than that!

  12. I also am a big supporter of Indian education. Kudos to the state of Montana...should be mandatory in every state as it's part of all our hertiage in America. Thanks for sharing.


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